Suchen und Finden
Stefan was up early the next morning. He pulled on badly wrinkled jeans before pouring dry kibbles into a bowl. “Hey, tom cat,” he asked. “You going exploring today?”
Hermes jumped down and rubbed on his master’s legs. “Sure Hermes, You’re still number one. You got that boy?”
Hermes slyly winked one eye at his master. Then, he trotted to the cabin door and pawed at the crack where it opened.
“OK, I understand,” laughed Stefan. “Hey! Look after those two,” he called back over his shoulder as he disappeared down the corridor.
After breakfast, the three cats sat around grooming themselves. When they were absolutely clean, Hermes asked, “You two ready for a tour of the ship?”
Both cats felt overwhelmed by strangeness of the ship. Artemis just looked at the door. Ajax busied himself cleaning a spot under his paw. Neither would look at their leader.
“Up to you,” Hermes responded. “I was planning on taking you down to the cargo hold, where rats and mice live. There’s really good hunting down there,” he added. He walked out the door. Ajax and Artemis exchanged a quick look before hurrying after him.
Hermes led his new partners down to the bottom of the ship. On the way, Ajax and Artemis looked around in amazement. Although they had never been allowed inside Nadia’s house, they had managed to sneak in a few times. The ship was nothing like that house. The bottoms of doors were a foot from the floor and cats had to jump to get through. Nadia’s house had chairs and tables and curtains to climb. It smelled of fish and garlic; but there was nothing like that here. It seemed like Stefan’s cabin was the only normal place. Everywhere else was cold steel floors and odd looking pipes. The ship smelled like a mixture of old paint and diesel fuel.
“Can we go anywhere we want?” asked Ajax.
“There are a few places you can’t. And believe, me you really don’t want to. The engine room! Don’t go there.” Hermes flattened his ears before explaining. “Its dangerous and noisy.”
“Engine room. What’s that?” asked Artemis.
“This ship is pushed through the water by fire demons that live in the engine room,” Hermes answered. “That’s Stefan’s job -- making the demons do their work. When they get angry, the ship stops moving. Then, Stefan goes down there till he gets them under control.”
Ajax’s eyes grew big and his tail fluffed as he imagined Stefan in a large, fiery room with many door knobs on opposite walls. Sullen demons with dog heads lounged here and there as Stefan strode down the middle cracking his whip and yowling strange commands. Ajax shuddered a bit as he ripped his imagination away from the scene. He glanced at Hermes. “So ---- we’d better be extra nice to Stefan?” he asked.
“We’re almost there,” Hermes told them. “We’ll probably find some rats today. A cat can handle four or five rats, but can get into big trouble if he fights 20 or 30. -- that includes you Artemis. And don’t think they’re stupid, because they’re not. If we find them, you can catch one, but stay close to me. No running off.”
The cargo hold was a big room filled with boxes and barrels and huge sacks. It was dark as pitch. Hermes sniffed the air and backed his ears. Slowly, he moved into an area of barrels. He climbed and snuck along, sniffing the air as the other two followed.
They’d not gone far when Ajax saw a shadow dart behind some boxes. Fast as lightning he was after it, climbing and burrowing wherever it went. When he couldn’t see it, he followed by scent and from the faint scratching sounds the creature made as it pulled itself through narrow crevasses.
Artemis looked at Hermes, hesitating for a moment before dashing after Ajax.
The creature stayed just ahead of Ajax as he burrowed deeper and deeper in the cargo hold. Ajax finally reached the bottom and the creature was waiting in an open area about five feet square. It shrieked a challenge. Without hesitation, Ajax jumped, landing right before it. Instead of running, the rat crouched low and swayed back and forth. Ajax struck hard with a paw full of claws but the creature merely dodged. Ajax shifted left to free up his good right paw when a flicker of movement drew his attention. To his horror, the entire area was covered in rats, watching the show!
He remembered Hermes’s warning. “Don’t fight a battle you can’t win.“ Ajax struggled for a plan, but there were just too many and no way out. He backed his ears, hissing and circling as he waited.
The rats crept closer, crowding Ajax on all sides. Suddenly a silent shadow flew from a barrel, landing in their midst. Nimble Artemis was all claws and teeth as she spun this way and that, scattering all before her. With savage growls she fought as an equal beside stout Ajax. Blood flowed, yet the rats recovered quickly from their surprise and fought hard. They jumped recklessly at the cats, latching on with razor sharp teeth. Things were looking grim when Artemis saw a clear space above. “Ajax,” she called as she sprang. By instinct, Ajax leapt after her and in a second, they had vanished.
The two worked their way back to where they’d left Hermes. He was still there, waiting calmly. “Not so dumb, are they?” Ajax and Artemis looked at each other and said nothing. “I think you’ve had enough for one day. Let me show you some sun,” he said. With his tail held high, he trotted for the door. The other two followed closely.
Hermes lead them up to the forecastle (folk-sul) deck. It was a sunny Mediterranean day with just a bit of spray over the bow. Artemis and Ajax sat, licking their wounds and trying not to look at Hermes.
“Hey. What’s wrong with you two? Rat got your tongue?”, laughed Hermes. “I made the same mistake a long time ago. A bit paw learns the best,” he said. “For now, let’s enjoy the sun. A little later, if you’re up to it, we can practice sparing.”
Ajax looked up from licking a bloody bite. “You bet!” he responded.
In the days that followed, Hermes began training the young recruits. Ajax and Artemis had always known Hermes as an honored guest. They had played with him a little, but never like this. He worked them hard. Whenever Ajax thought he had the advantage, Hermes would move with blinding speed and turn things around.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of it,” grumbled Ajax.
“Nonsense, “ replied Hermes. “In two days, you’ve come a long way. But stop trying to be me. See your enemy, study him, his build and how he moves. And learn to use your strengths.”
“And what are those?”
Hermes looked strait into the eyes of his young student. “You are bigger than most cats. You get stronger every day. Move in close where you cannot miss. Knock them over with your body weight. Then punch with all the power you have. But before using this strategy, you must honestly see your enemy. If he’s fast enough, one bite to the neck and you’re done!”
Ajax was stunned by the complement. Returning his teacher’s gaze, he slowly blinked both eyes before laying down on a coil of rope to think.
“And what about me?” asked Artemis.
“Yes you. Clever cat,” replied Hermes. “You are not a tiger, and I think you already know your role. Still, I will teach you.”
Ajax & Artemis met on the deck
That evening, Ajax and Artemis met on the deck. “He teaches me different stuff than you.”
“Of course Silly. How well would it work if he taught me to crash into other cats to knock them down?” she laughed.
“Not very well I suppose.”
“I guess you know Hermes is working really hard to train you?”
“You’re bigger than he his for one thing. But he comes at you like a tiger. He could get a broken paw with all that rough and tumble stuff,” said Artemis.
Ajax thought it over. “Am I really bigger than Hermes?” he asked.
“Yeah. You just never noticed it because he was the ‘Big Tom’ when you wandered into our garden as a stray. But you’re bigger now,” she said smiling.
“Well, maybe .... But he’s still awful strong and unbelievably fast.”
Artemis nodded in vigorous agreement. “I noticed.”
The two cats fell into silence as they looked over the water. Miss moon smiled down on them and her image danced on the sea.
“I’d never have seen any of this if I hadn’t come with Stefan and Hermes,” said Ajax.
Artemis moved a little closer for his warmth. They watched the stars with that sharp awareness that only comes at night.
It was true that Artemis’s training was very different from Ajax’s. For Artemis there was much creeping and slinking and...